The Final Fantasy series is the Metallica of video games. Its been around for 29 years, it’s reinvented itself numerous times and it’s had a couple of dodgy releases, which are overlooked because, well, it’s Final Fantasy.
It remains one of the most popular games series in the whole wide world. Its name is synonymous with cutting-edge graphics and huge game worlds populated with memorable characters and iconic villains.
And I just don’t care.
I’ve tried time and time again to get in to Final Fantasy. Each game I’ve tried has managed to put me off the series more and more with what feels like gleeful, deliberate impenetrability.
Let’s start with Final Fantasy VII, the title that is consistently praised as the finest game in the series. I’ve started it numerous times and each time I’ve aborted before anything even remotely interesting happened. The game just feels… wrong.
Let’s be honest, the turn-based combat is bloody annoying. Yes, yes, there are nuances in there, related to elements and materia (aka ‘random fighting stuff’), but it still feels like there is an overall lack of strategy to these encounters. With a few exceptions, if you level up enough, you can beat the shit out of almost anything. It’s not turn-based gaming’s fault. I’m a huge fan of games like Civilization and Total War. Games that rely on turn-based mechanics to allow actual strategies. In comparison, combat in the earlier Final Fantasy games feel clunky and unnatural, like trying to play chess in boxing gloves. With a hammer.
Then there are the arse-nippingly aggrevating random encounters. Wandering round a location you see nothing but the player on the screen, only to have everything dissolve into unexpected combat with a random monster at some arbitrary moment. It doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s because other Japanese RPGs, like Zelda for example allow you to see enemies, so you can choose which to fight and which to avoid.
There there’s the overall lack of consistency thing, or as some people call it, the needlessly weird shit. One minute you’re fighting Shinra guards armed with machine guns and next thing you’re attacked by giant hypnotic butterflies. It seemed at times that the art team for Final Fantasy VII spent a large amount of time designing characters during the tail end of a particularly intense and unexpected acid trip.
But it’s not just Final Fantasy VII that scrapes a rotting fingernail down one’s soul. I’ve played Final Fantasies IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, XII and bloody XIV too. Each one has been singularly uninspiring. The games have continually failed to excite me the way it seems to captivate millions of other gamers around the world. It’s not just me. There are thousands of us out there, carefully avoiding making our opinions known on forums and groups because we know you love them. All of them. Each tousle-headed Japanese scamp with a stupidly large and utterly pointless sword, each breathtakingly rendered waif and every frigging monster in ever frigging game.
In a bid to avoid killing players through teeth-grinding high blood pressure (we assume) Final Fantasy XII introduced a more “action-oriented” approach to combat. Just select the target for each character in your party, then let them fight away until they won or lost. Woo! For the terminally dull, it even included an auto-fight system, that allowed you to tailor each character’s behaviour in combat so you could just sit back and watch. Bloody hell. The role I played in this role-playing game, was of a man who was deeply, deeply bored.
And while we’re on the subject of the ‘sequels’, nothing really links the various games together other than the previously mentioned impressively un-fun mechanics. I get that it must be hard keep a coherent story together across fifteen games, but if the only thing linking your games is the sheer impenetrability of the storylines and the fact the number on the box has gone up by 1, then it’s not a sequel, it’s a ‘you might also like’ suggestion.
Final Fantasy XV is due out on September the 30th on the PS4 and Xbox One. It’s a beautiful looking game. The combat system has been entirely refreshed to make it more action-oriented and characters can roam the world in a ‘free running style’. The main character is an emo crown-prince on a quest to retrieve a magical crystal to save his homeland.
We had a meeting, we discussed this very carefully. It’s still bollocks. Sorry.